PM's Office: There will be no negotiations with Syria
Foreign minister says 'Israel's strategic objective is to reach peace with Syria,' raises questions on whether Israeli stance on Syrian issue has changed. Officials at Olmert's office clarify, 'Prime minister has not changed his mind,' explain that 'Assad is only wooing Israel in international media'
"There will be no negotiations, as long as Syria continues to support terror and to be involved in the axis of evil," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office clarified Tuesday evening.
"Livni's remarks at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee do not testify to any change in the Israeli government's stance regarding the Syrian issue," officials at Livni's office also clarified.
Officials at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem told Ynet Tuesday evening that they absolutely reject the claim that the Israeli government has changed its objective.
"I see a difference between the Syrian declarations in the international media and the statements in the Syrian media. Any remark made by (Syrian President Bashar) Assad and his Foreign Minister Moallem are only aimed at relieving the international pressure, following the investigation committee into the murder of (former Lebanese President) Rafik Hariri and young Gemayel," sources in Olmert's office quoted the prime minister.
"Syria in its deeds and in Assad's deeds proves that it stands behind Damascus' four crimes: Arms smuggling to Hizbullah in Lebanon while violating UN Resolution 1701, sheltering Khaled Mashaal and the terror organizations in the Syrian capital in a bid to thwart any move for peace and release Gilad Shalit on the Palestinian route, increasingly close connections with Tehran which calls for Israel's destruction, and active involvement in terror attacks carried out in Iraq against the Americans."
"The prime minister has not changed his mind. These acts prove that the Syrians are still deep inside the axis of evil and have not changed their ways. As long as they fail to change their deeds, we have no reason to start discussing the possibilities of negotiations," a diplomatic source in the Prime Minister's Office said.
"If things change, the prime minister will be willing to consider changing Israel's stance," the source added.
And what does the Syrian side say? American Senator Arlen Spector, who is visiting Damascus, said that Assad was interested in resuming negotiations with Israel.
Spector said during a press conference at the end of his meeting with the Syrian president that Assad declared his interest in holding talks with Israel in a bid to reach a diplomatic solution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict, based on the UN doctrine of territories in return for peace.
'Livni only reviewed situation'
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rejected any claim that her remarks at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee constitute a change in Israel's policy and a declaration that Israel should hold negotiations with the Syrians.
"The foreign minister briefed the committee members on the situation in Syria and Lebanon on all its aspects, and did not rule whether negotiations should be held or not. On the contrary, she said that the place for such a discussion should be in the government and should be done discretely," a senior member at Livni's office said Tuesday evening.
In a discussion held at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Livni said that "Israel's strategic objective is to reach peace with the Syrians."
These remarks, as they were published in the media, stirred a feeling that there is a change in the Israeli government's stance, after it was very firm in rejecting any possibility of talks with the Syrians in recent weeks.
Studying Livni's remarks, however, reveals that she reiterated the traditional Israeli stance. Alongside the declaration that peace with Syria should be a strategic Israeli objective, she stressed the need to examine Damascus' intentions before entering negotiations.
"Before Israel enters negotiations, it must examine whether the Syrians have made a strategic decisions. In other words, do they want to enter negotiations because they are interested in peace or in order to relieve the international pressure exerted on them. They must decide if they have decided to renounce their support of terror," Livni said at the Knesset.
Sources in the foreign minister's office, however, noted Tuesday evening that Livni criticized Israel's public conduct in terms of the Syrian issue.
"The conclusion how Israel should act opposite the Syrians should be made on the basis of evaluations of the situation and a specific examination at the government. These discussions must be held discreetly.
"The minister did not present the committee with any conclusion, whether in favor or against negotiations. She only presented the different stances. Such decisions belong in the government and not in newspapers," a source in Livni's office clarified.